I’m Georgie Strang, and I have been asked to write a diary in the build-up to my first Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials — it’s my first ever four-star and just writing these words seems pretty surreal!
I am 22 years old and live on a farm in Kent with my parents and a lot of animals. I have always been obsessed with competing at the top level and have several young horses to bring on to hopeful stardom. My horse however needs no introduction! Master Monarch, or “Ben”, as we call him, now 19 years young, is an eventing legend and has a truly outstanding record, including competing at the Sydney Olympics with Brook Staples, and winning the Rolex Kentucky Horse Trials in 2006 with Andrew Hoy.
Having watched him on the TV over the years in total adoration, when his owners Tom Attwood and Richard Constant asked us to have him on rest at our farm at the end of 2008 I was overjoyed that such a horse would be a member of our yard.
However, when the opportunity came for me to take over the ride and actually compete him that was beyond my wildest dreams. Although I was delighted, the pressure was huge to take on such a superstar, but luckily enough I had the fantastic help of Mark and Tanya Kyle, who I was based with while studying at Nottingham Trent University.
The first question was would he regain fitness at 18, which proved the least of our worries. The second, and most important question was would I be able to ride him? Starting off at novice just last year, we progressed to complete my first CIC*** and come fourth at Weston CCI**, not without several setbacks, especially in the showjumping, and jumping several wrong fences and an ancient Scottish stone wall at Burgie along the way!
With the invaluable help from the Kyles and the incredible kind, generous and forgiving nature of Ben I am now four weeks away from achieving a lifelong dream, to compete at Burghley. The decision was made to enter the prestigious event after being placed ninth at Bramham in the under-25s in June, with an unbelievable clear inside the time cross-country. We also won the vet’s prize, for the horse who held the best condition and fitness throughout the event. From the moment we arrived at the event he knew he was finally back to the big time and having already competed at Burghley five times, I’m certain he knows it’s coming.
Final run at Gatcombe
Needing to have one more run, I took him to Gatcombe in the British open last weekend. We didn’t do a bad dressage test, however, the showjumping was not quite so successful. As soon as he heard the cross-country loudspeaker Ben couldn’t concentrate on anything else, and had possibly the first refusal of his life, at a simple upright, then several poles down before we managed to regain some pride and finish well.
All flustered and bedazzled, I had to put this display to the back of my mind and just focus on the challenging cross-country course ahead! With Ben doing what he does best, I had a fantastic round (above and left), he had his ears pricked the whole way and made it feel like a Pony Club track, both of us loving every second. Somehow we moved up 10 places and as we were packing up I was told I had to get down to the prize-giving immediately as I had won the best under-25 prize, a saddle and a training voucher. Thinking they had made a mistake I sheepishly joined the top riders to receive my fantastic award.
The day’s dreamlike end
Then the day got even more dreamlike when I was tapped on the back by a little girl asking for my autograph. I looked around me in disbelief thinking she had got me confused with someone, but no, she asked me again. As I signed it, a queue formed behind her of about 10 more children with pens and paper. As I signed my name, next to none other than Mary King’s signature, I couldn’t help but smile — in my room at home I still have a post card up on my wall saying “To Georgie, Good luck. Love Mary King”! A moment I will never forget, however I doubt any of the kids really had a clue who I was, next time I think I’ll write Master Monarch, as that’s who the real star is!
So Ben will now have a few days off while I’m at Hartpury, where I am competing my six-year-old Whiskey Roo in his first CCI*, and another horse owned by Tom Attwood, the eight-year-old Highland Leopard in his first CCI**. Let’s hope I can give them the confidence and experience that Ben has given me!
I will let you know if they have both behaved next week and how Ben copes with stepping up his fitness training.
See you soon.
Full report from the Festival of British Eventing at Gatcombe in H&H this week, 12 August.